Tito, I soon learned, came from Westindian Panamanian parents who had the physical characteristics of the culizos. Culizos in Panama bear the racial attributes of East Indians and my new friend had that distinct swarthy skin color, chocolate-brown, with a slight curl to his mostly straight hair. These features all combined in Tito to make him a good looking guy although he was a little shorter in stature than me.
We walked in silence towards the center of the city where we both lived when we were suddenly met by another guy, a mulatto in appearance. “Hey, this is my friend Riri who came here from Panama,” says Tito gregariously.
Tito then turns to me and says, “Riri, this is my Brother Renaldo.” The three of us shake hands in a spirit of camaraderie, and I was honestly lifted out of any sour mood that I may have been harboring. “Glad to know you Renaldo,” I said and we exchanged greetings. Before moving from that spot another boy whom I recognised from our class approached us like a good little politician, with his hand outstretched. “Hey, it’s a pleasure…what’s your name?” he says good naturedly. “Reid,” I started to say, but before I could clarify, Tito says, “We’ve given him a nickname…Riri.” The other new boy, Albert Bryan, would become one of the best friends I’d harvest in the town of Colon.
Albert was a tall, dark skinned Westindian boy similar in coloring to myself. One of his outstanding features was his self assuredness and, although his demeanor was humble, he seemed extremely intelligent. That first day on the street I also got to know some other classmates who later became my faithful friends in the experiment in my life in Colon.
Among them was a very friendly boy whose last name was Henry and whose parents owned a candy store and newspaper stand on Avenida Cristobal. The others followed. There was Eddie Walcott, Vicente, Hillary, Ernest Valentino, and Zeek, all Westindian boys who restored my faith in friendship. I became known as “RiRi the guy from the National Institute of Panama” amongst them and I would soon fit in nicely in their “high marks”group, a handful of the most intelligent kids in our age group in the Colon of our day during the decade of the fifties.
I still couldn’t get over my surprisingly friendly reception on that first day of school. All of a sudden I was a guy with “prospects” whereas a month earlier I had been a complete foreigner, a nobody. In the days ahead I would begin to feel like I was truly a part of the life of the City of Colon.
In those first weeks I quickly became a part of the lives of those young West Indian boys whom I had come to respect and I I felt that I had always been a part of their lives and had always been a student in that school with them as if we knew each other from primary school. I still had the thought, however, that I didn’t fully understand the dynamics of the City of Colon, a small town with a big metropolitan city mentality with a West Indian community that had ties to the two Silver Roll workforces.
In my still bewildred state since my parents had abandoned us and I had embarked on a quest to open my own doors after they had been closed for so long, I still looked back on my perturbed past at times. After all, my acculturation had been rather strange within the Hispanic Panamanian community in which people seemed somewhat isolating.
There was always this wall of suspicion there as I remembered that I was living in a building in which the Afro-Hispanic neighbors were not allowed to associate with the West Indian families until they knew them for many years. Back at school, however, the Hispanic girls had received me cordially although the Hispanic boys were a little standoffish, as usual.
My analysis of our world in the West Indian community, the Afro-Caribbean people of the Silver Roll of the Atlantic Canal Zone, as well as the residents of Colon City itslef, was proving to be correct since they all knew each other and that seemed to be enough then. What had been inconceivable to me before, however, that I would be considered one of the boys who showed real promise, was now suddenly real. And…I had only just started knowing people.
This story continues.